You can easily get a Pass INT-30 or INT-150 for under $5k used here on Audiogon.
You won't be disappointed. If you have your room and speakers acoustically optimized and well set up, I'd recommend the INT-30 as it recreates the acoustic venue the performance was performed - better than the 150. The INT-150 is more dynamic.
If you Prima Luna has pre-outs, and if that piece will perform to your level of expectation (I have no experience with this piece), you can get a Pass XA-30.5 also. We used one with our moderately high end system for a few years and enjoyed it. It really is an over achiever.
Kindest regards, TJF
Isn't this more a function of the speakers?
"I wasn't able to tolerate SS gear at or below the $2k price of the Prima Luna when I bought but am open minded about gear costing more... "
Looking at your system, I think there's a good chance your issue is with the 1.7's and not your amp than you amp. I had a pair myself, and I just couldn't get pass the highs. That big strip of aluminum they use for a tweeter, sounds like a big strip of aluminum.
So, at this point, you'll probably need to make a choice. Either you get a new pair of speakers that are easier on the ears, or you can continue on with them, and keep buying components in an attempt to offset what the speakers are doing. I would recommend replacing the speakers because I like fixing a problem directly. But I realize you'll probably want to keep the 1.7's because they get good reviews and a lot of people like them.
Of all the amps I tried with the 1.7's, my Rowland 112 was the one I liked the most. Its very soft in the highs and it helps offset the ribbon tweeter. Also, I would stay away from low power tube gear like you currently have. Some of what you are hearing is probably due to the amp straining. I think you can use your Prima Luna as a preamp, so I would just try an amp first.
I would tend to agree with Zd542 about the speaker being the issue. After moving from a private home in the suburbs back into a city apartment I also looked for a system that I could enjoy at lower volumes. What I discovered in my research was that this seems to be more a function of the speaker than the associated system. There are not many speakers that really play well at low volumes.
IMHO the best speaker that I heard at low volume was the Harbeth SHL5. I heard a few others like the Vandersteen Treo and VLR Wood that sounded almost as good at low volume but the Harbeth stood out from the group. I had foolishly sold my Super HL5's years ago but I lived with them for more than 2 years. I ended up with the Vandersteen VLR Wood and though not quite the equal of the Harbeth, it is still a very enjoyable speaker at a much lower price point. YMMV.
I suggest you talk to your Magnepan dealer about your dilemma as he may have suggestions specific to your speaker.
Best set-up I ever owned for low volume listening was a Pathos Twin Towers into Vienna Acoustics Mozart's ... a close second was a Cary 300SEI into ProAc 1SC's
Isn't this more a function of the speakers?"
No. All of the components contribute. Not only that, but you can have a situation where one component can stop all the others from performing to their potential. For example, I have an amp that doesn't image well. When I put it in a system that otherwise has components that excel in imaging, the whole system is brought down to the level of the amp. It makes it sound like all of the components have an imaging problem.
I would concur that the Maggies may be the main factor with the low level resolution.
Having owned 3 different pair, low level detail is not what they are about.
If you are after low level resolution I would recommend full range electrostatics or horns.
Merrill Audio Thor monoblocks
Actually I have no problems with the 1.7's sounding shrill... every shrillness concern I had with them resolved to be caused by other components. But full disclaimer also... I replaced many of the "no name" original crossover capacitors in my 1.7's with Clarity CAP ESA's and Mundorf Supremes
The original reviewer criticisms of the PL Premium integrated were 2 fold (1) weak lower octave (2) a dissatisfaction with ability to resolve at lower volume levels. KT-150's have addressed the bass short comings but I fully agree that you can't get good enjoyment with the amp at less than "robust" volume... my old Hafler did better at low volumes.
Actually I have no problems with the 1.7's sounding shrill... every shrillness concern I had with them resolved to be caused by other components."
I've heard that one before, lol. In all seriousness, though, even to play at moderate volumes, your Prima Luna is probably working pretty hard. Generally speaking, tube amps are a bit more forgiving when pushed hard compared to SS. So while you may feel the need to turn the volume up to get everything sounding right, its possible that the amp is straining and you just don't realize it, tubes will sound different under a heavy load. I didn't really care for my 1.7's, but I didn't have any problems with them at low volumes. Do you have anyone that can lend you some components to do some testing with?
Maggies are about big soundstage , no more, no less.
You said it. The Modwright sounds very good at low volume, very detailed. I would seriously consider a used Modwright SWL 9.0 SE w/tubed power supply( used $1500). Or you could check out Manley labs I love there Jumbo Shrimp preamp. You could then use just about any SS amp you like. Tube pre with SS amp is a awesome way to go (best of both worlds) if your speakers are not TUBE friendly. If you want an all tube integrated, you might find a used 1st or 2nd gen AYON Triton integrated for $5000.00 I do not like the sound of all these cheap Asian made tube integrated amps that are flooding the market. I find that American audio company's really have it dialed in when it comes to great sounding designs and this comes from many years of experience working with circuts and electrical parts.
My Jeff Rowland Concentra (first Gen) resolves well at low volumes.
I have owned 10 pairs of Magenepans and I can tell you first hand that "low level" anything is not something they do well.
There is a Hegel H4SE on Agon right now that will absolutely astound you. It sounds incredible at all volumes and especially low volumes. I went from a Pass X250.8 to this and it is absolutely a significant upgrade from the Pass in all areas, especially the low level listening.